I have lived in Vienna on and off for the past 2 years, but did not begin cycling until Spring 2009. When I did start cycling, it was at first on the outskirts along the Danube, and not in the city itself. Since having returned to the US this summer, I have become quite comfortable cycling on the roads in Boston. And now that I was going back to Austria, I was curious how I would feel riding around Vienna. Luckily, Anna from Cycling Is Good for You was happy to help me find out.
This is Anna locking up her bike in front of Citybiker, the shop where we met up. I first met her earlier this year, when I was living in Vienna on a more long-term basis. She looked fetching in her red polka-dotted knee-socks at the Vienna Naked Bike Ride, and we had since gone out for dinner and kept in touch over email. We planned this ride with a two-fold purpose: For her to test a Retrovelo, and for me to try cycling around Vienna under her more experienced wing. Originally, the plan was for both of us to ride Retrovelos, but the frame size they had was slightly too large for me. So she took a Retrovelo Paul and I took the most interesting bicycle they had in my size - the Specialized Globe Haul. And there you have it: Paul and Haul were going out for a ride.
Here is Anna heroically carrying Paul up the steps of the courtyard where the bike shop is located. I did that too, but my Haul was lighter - so not quite as heroic.
Our fist destination was a small park near the Parliament, where we shamelessly took silly photos of each other and the bikes. This is Anna with Paul.
And here is me with Haul. I look ridiculously happy, because I am finally cycling!
After a short adventure at the Parliament, we finally set off for real. In layout, the city of Vienna somewhat resembles a flower: The first district is the center, with districts 2-9 arranged around it like flower petals, and the other districts arranged around those. There is a street - the Ringstrasse - that runs continuously around the circumference of the 1st District, and another street - the Guertel - that runs continuously around the wider circumference of the "petals". Both of these circular streets have bike paths that are separated from motorised traffic, making them convenient starting points for getting to any other district of Vienna.
There are also segregated bike paths along the entire length of the Danube Canal and the Danube River itself, forming additional "bike highway" systems that are convenient for many destinations.
Both Anna and I have mixed feelings about the segregated paths. On the one hand, they are safe from motorized traffic - even the intersections and crossings are well-organised, so that it's clear to cyclists and motorists when it's whose turn. My experience in this regard was good. But on the other hand, one is forced to cycle on these paths very slowly, because pedestrians meander onto them without looking. Slow cycling of this sort is enjoyable when sightseeing or going for a nice ride with a friend - but I imagine not so much when you need to actually get to work or to a meeting on time. And since it is mandatory to use the paths when they are present (as opposed to being able to choose between the paths and vehicular cycling), there is no other option for those following these routes.
Our trip around Vienna was fairly well-rounded in terms of what kind of cycling we did. We began nice and slow along the tame paths around the central Ringstrasse and the Danube Canal, transitioned to bike lanes as we ventured further out, and finally transitioned to cycling on larger roads with motorised vehicles.
Here is Anna in front of some wonderful graffiti along the Danube canal. She and Paul made quite a splendid pair!
For reasons of safety, we did not take photos of us cycling on the road with cars - but I will describe that experience as "absolutely fine". I felt very comfortable following Anna, as she gave clear signals that made it easy for me to understand what she was about to do. The cars behaved differently than they do in Boston, but it's hard to describe exactly how. They seemed less freaked out by the fact that we were there, for one thing. But I wouldn't say that they gave us more room than Boston drivers do or slowed down more when passing us. It was equivalent. My only concern about cycling in Vienna, is that both bike paths and bike lanes are mandatory. With the bike lanes this can be especially problematic, because they are sometimes in the door-zone - and when this is the case, the cyclist is not legally allowed to move further out into the road. I wonder how cyclists handle this issue here. In Boston I never cycle in the door zone, and it made me nervous to do so here.
After almost 2 hours out and about, Paul and Haul returned to their stables at Citybiker. They seemed to have had as good of a time as we did. Anna is now seriously considering a Retrovelo, and I wish her the best of luck in her decision! I took lots of detailed shots of both the Retrovelo Paul and the Specialized Globe Haul, and will post my thoughts on them later. Thank you, Anna, for a great day!